Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When You Can't Go 100% Organic

Even if you can’t afford to buy everything local and organic, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog and research nonprofit, has identified the “dirty dozen”– those fruits and veggies that contain the highest amounts of pesticides. For these, it might be worth paying for the organic versions. Among conventionally grown, try sticking to the “cleanest 12.” The produce ranking was developed by EWG analysts based on the results of nearly 51,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005. An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets showed that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90% by avoiding the top 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead.

Or better still eat organic instead. Note conventionally grown peaches are the top of the "dirtiest" list.


Monday, July 20, 2009

New study: Nearly three-quarters of U.S. families buy organic products

Organic Trade Association PRESS RELEASE here...

GREENFIELD, Mass. (June 16, 2009)—Tightening their spending habits amid economic uncertainty, U.S. families, however, are not giving up their purchases of organic products. In fact, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of U.S. families buy organic products at least occasionally, chiefly for health reasons according to a new study to be unveiled this week.

Findings from the 2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study, jointly sponsored by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and KIWI Magazine, also show that three in ten U.S. families (31 percent) are actually buying more organic foods compared to a year ago, with many parents preferring to reduce their spending in other areas before targeting organic product cuts. In fact, 17 percent of U.S. families said their largest increases in spending in the past year were for organic products.

“These findings reinforce the data collected in OTA’s 2009 Organic Industry Survey that showed continued healthy growth in U.S. sales of organic products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s executive director.

“We are pleased that so many parents are continuing to choose organic. It’s inspiring to see the degree to which these parents are leading the charge for a healthier way of life among their families and friends,” said Maxine Wolf, chief executive officer for KIWI Magazine.

OTA collaborated with KIWI Magazine on the national research study to gauge attitudes and behavior of families concerning organic product purchases. Managed by RMI Research and Consulting, LLC, the study was fielded among U.S. households during April. Highlights of the findings will be presented in Chicago at the All Things Organic™ Conference and Trade Show keynote session “Into the Mouths of Babes—Parents’ Reflections on Organic for Kids” Thursday, June 18, at 9:30 a.m.

Compiling results gathered from 1,200 families across the United States, this research identifies and profiles those who promote buying organic among family, friends and co-workers, specifically exploring the role parents play as potential influencers. Data reveal the typical path of organic purchases, beginning with the most common points of entry and tracing this through succeeding product category purchases. The study also explores families’ organic grocery shopping experiences and their preferences for the way organic products are organized and displayed on the retail level. In addition, it examines consumers’ understanding of organic product labels.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy (

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bucket Drip Irrigation

I received this photo today from Kyomya, Uganda. Click on picture to enlarge. The system is described below courtesy of Ken Hargesheimer at

The bucket must be suspended at least l meter above the ground. A tube is connected to the dripline and the other end is placed in the bucket to siphon the water out. Assuming the bucket is 20 liters, fill it twice for each row of vegetables. The dripline can be moved to another row for irrigating. Each row of vegetables is irrigated every other day. Plant a row of vegetables on each side of the dripline and use 40 liters of water.

Bucket Kits
The key to the simple drip irrigation system that we use is the gravity fed "bucket kit". The bucket kit consists of four 8m lines [or two of 50 ft or one of 100’] of drip tape connected to a bucket suspended 1m above the vegetable bed. Water is poured into the bucket and is evenly distributed to 100 watering points. By filling the bucket twice a day, a small kitchen garden can be watered. Studies in Kenya have shown that two of these kits can provide the water needed to produce enough vegetables to feed a family of seven during the dry season. These bucket kits are available in most countries (US$15), save water, save labor, and are easy to use. Go to

Using sleeves
Farmers in Honduras invented a VERY cheap drip irrigation system. They buy the regular black poly hose. Then they punch holes in it where they want them with a nail or ice pick. A hot nail is best. Then take short sections [5 inches] of the same hose, cut it lengthwise to form a sleeve, and place a sleeve over each hole. This sleeve applies pressure to the hole, only letting a little water out, like a drip. This technology is quite cheap, VERY simple to do. Maintenance is also simple, because if a hole plugs up, you can often unplug it merely by taking the sleeve off and then replacing it.

Using screws
Farmers in Nicaragua are using cheap round tubing and wood screws. If drip tape is unavailable, this is a great alternative. We tried it with great success. The screw is inserted completely into the tubing at each planting location so that it protrudes through the opposite wall. It is then backed off to allow water to drip through that side. The flow is set by screwing it in or out as needed. This even allows for variations in pressure due to terrain.

DIY drip kit:
Roger Pigott [San Diego workshop] decided to use two bucket drip systems on a bed in the garden but he did not want to siphon the water. Kits from are $25 each. He went to the hardware store and purchased: 100' of ½" black poly tubing; a post to hang buckets on; a faucet rosette washer and nut; ¾" ring washers; ¾" swivel tubing adapter; union - ¾" pipe threads and garden hose threads. One for each bucket. He drilled a 3/4 inch hole in the bottom of the buckets and installed the fittings. He then connected the tubing from the buckets to a header. He has five driplines connected to the header using tees and ells. He used wood screws for the drip outlets. There is about 60' of dripline. He planted seed in the five rows and laid the dripline over the seed. Very original thinking!

Buy enough hose to connect the drip line to the top of the bucket to siphon out the water. It takes about 1-2 hours for the bucket to empty. The dripline can be moved to another row of vegetables or plant a row of vegetables on each side of the dripline. Use more water. If one is willing to carry the water, one line will irrigate several rows during the day.

Plant green manure/cover crops to cut and leave on top of the soil to improve the soil. This is a MUST. Also, can be intercropped with the food crop.

Ken Hargesheimer

Friday, July 10, 2009

We Want This World to be like Heaven - Prof Muhammad Yunus

Speaking today at the annual Nelson Mandela Foundation annual lecture, Prof. Muhammad Yunus concluded his remarks by saying "We want this world to be like Heaven. This is the challenge we face".

He was picking up on a comment from the audience, which was asked to envision the world we a would like to live in in 2050.

One person stood up from the audience and said "Heaven on Earth". So Prof Yunus selected this from the many comments to conclude his remarks to the audience assembled at CIDA City Campus, in downtown Johannesburg.

Three young people were invited by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to join the Nobel Peace Prize winner on the stage. A CIDA City Campus graduate Dumisani Dladla was among them and spoke eloquently of his own work in the field of social development with a project he worked on to help school leavers in Orange Farm to further their education with business skills.

Solly Mhlongo and Director Nhlongo from Ezemvelo were also in attendance today as part of the internship programme at Ezemvelo studying Biointensive methods of organic agriculture.

More pictures here

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Building with Rice Hulls

The earth bag building project I mentioned in an earlier post here on Building with Earth is rapidly taking shape. It is a home for a family of orphans on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota, USA. When I visited them last February, they were living in a mobile home with constant plumbing problems and very high heating bills.

So an inspiring group called Natures Compassion in my home town in Iowa decided to do something about it. They organized a fund raiser at Fairfield's new Convention Center led by the mayor of Fairfield. Funds were enough to build the family a home. Volunteers are now on site and building the home. They want to attract public support for other families on the reserve by building a first class eco home at very low cost and already some major magazines are interested to publish stories.

Owing to the extreme cold they decided to do two layers of bags - one earth and one with rice hulls on the exterior for insulation. The main structure should be in up in 2 weeks. Then comes the finishing - they will use only the best natural ingredients and energy saving technologies.

More pictures here.